For the past decade and a half, this flying Dutchwoman has been liberating audiences all over Europe from their self-imposed shackles. Her wings? Three vinyl decks, crafty pickings from her 20,000 record collection, and an adventurous spirit. Unhinged and not the least bit bogged down by conventions, DJ Marcelle answers the call to Mix Series #13 with her own unique take on things. Below, she speaks to us on how her subversive sound mimics life, while extolling the virtues of being a true music fan.
Hi Marcelle, what are you up to these days?
In February, Munich label Jahmoni will release my next record, the 12” EP Psalm Tree. At the moment I am shooting a video for one of the tracks with Berlin filmmaker Ben Mergelsberg, who also made the videos for my previous two records along with two mini documentaries. Aside from that, my work life consists of travelling, playing, producing my own music, listening to new vinyl, answering mail regarding gigs etc. I am a strong DIY artist; I do everything myself: bookings, sleeve designs, stage decorations etc. It’s important for me that all aspects are of a certain aesthetic and moral value, self-determination being paramount. This doesn’t exclude help from outside, such as from a booking agency, though these co-operations haven’t been very fruitful thus far. But who knows what the future will bring!
Also, I regularly check out record shops all around Europe, spending a lot of time finding new vinyl, as that’s the most important aspect of my DJ work. This might sound cliché but I sometimes get the sense that certain DJs are more interested in the ”technical” side of (beat)mixing and their equipment than being true music fans. It’s a very macho world.
Listening to your mix, I sense a strong Dadaistic vibe with a compelling and visceral undertone. What’s your take on this?
Like I said before, it all starts with finding the right records; I always look for something “weird” and “uncommon” in tracks. And some urgency.
This mix was “composed” by constantly playing records simultaneously, often three at a time, therefore putting each individual track in a new context. Improvisation and being “in the moment” is essential to everything I do. This mix is meant to be listened to at home and is therefore less beat-orientated compared to my live mixes. It’s all about the occasion; for example when I worked with a Barcelona performance/circus group my music was very abstract.
I am influenced by art movements like Dadaism and art brut, the absurdity of Monty Python, but also by post-punk and the latest developments in cutting-edge electronic music. A journalist in The Wire called my style and attitude ”iconoclastic”, which I take as a compliment. I want all my musical adventures to be surprising and “different” to what’s generally considered the “norm” of say, what a danceable DJ set should be.
You have a long history with both music and journalism; what made you choose music in the end?
I didn’t choose it. It just happened that at a certain point, some fifteen years ago, I had enough gigs that I could make a living out of it. It’s the ultimate job for me because music is more than a hobby. I became an orphan at a very young age and music ”saved” my life back then. That was in 1977, at the height of punk. This intense connection with music has never faded. I am very curious and follow the latest developments very closely, so that’s how one ends up with an extensive collection of some 20,000 records and counting!
I heard that while performing, you enjoy shaking things up and forget about four to the floor, preferring to cruise into the unknown. In this manner you managed to step away from the usual entertainer mold and strive for something else. So, what is a night out in the club like for you and the crowd?
Staying ahead of the audience is very important to me. I mix different cultures and styles into one organic mix. It’s like a journey around the world. The freedom to do whatever I want, at any moment, is of utmost importance, regardless of audience expectations. Audiences are almost conservative by default, even in so-called “progressive” and “underground” circles. In general club-goers like to know beforehand what is the one style they’ll be getting – just techno, just electro or whatever. Everyone dances more or less the same then. It brings to mind a church mass where everything is governed by strict rules. I find this very boring.
That’s why I detest things like DJ schools because they kill creativity and limit people. Best not to know too much! For me, a DJ/musician should be authentic and brave enough to take risks. What I do, playing different styles of energetic music on three decks, often simultaneously, requires a lot of technical skill, though not quite the same skillset as most DJs. I take risks but at the same time, I’m experienced. There is always a chance of things falling apart though! I like that feeling, it keeps me on my toes and the audience stays very much involved; it’s very spontaneous and “human”. My music is not for everyone but when people do like it, they are often euphoric, saying things like: “I have been going to clubs for 10 years but have never quite experienced a DJ set as this.”
Music for me is about going forward, not getting stuck. Punk, which was very exciting and liberating in the beginning because “everything” seemed possible, quickly became a cliché as well. I’ve since moved on to genres as dub, post-punk, left-field techno, drum ‘n’ bass, dubstep, avant garde etc. I like the rougher music coming from Africa. I don’t limit myself to genres, preferring to follow my instincts. Of course there is the question of taste too; in general I don’t like music when it’s too polished, don’t like rock too much, high synths, straight disco, prog rock. I like ”urgency” in music, I am a very “rhythmic” musician. I was heavily influenced by the open attitude of post-punk bands like Public Image Limited, and female bands like The Raincoats. Their music still sounds like nothing else, even after all these years.
Still, I don’t want to be a retro DJ, so most of the music I play is recent, but included the mix will always be one or two records that I’d bought in my youth, to show where I come from. Last week in Vienna these were “Careering” by PIL and “Danger Dub” by Pylon. And often I’d play some Muslimgauze, for he’s in my view one of the most creative and undervalued artists that ever lived.
Basic but tough question: is music meant to entertain or to evoke?
Music is certainly not just entertainment, but by being creative, unpredictable, and more importantly, playing the most exciting new records, it can be very entertaining too. For me music should reflect the (sick) society we live in, and the people we are. So, in the mix the music can be very jolly one moment, but very angry or hard the next. Just like life itself. My mixes and music are not about escapism, or about drink and drugs. They are about feeling human, and all the highs and lows that go with it. They are about the joy and pain of being alive! They are meant to inspire, to let go of conventions, in music and out.
On stage I let my emotions and moods guide me. I like to tease the audience a bit too. When everyone is dancing, a voice inside me will go: “Let’s change style, or tempo, and see what happens.”
I don’t play safe. The context in which I present the tracks is of utmost importance. It’s a bit like food; we pick something different each time and that keeps the meal delicious! Music-wise, a dose of techno, mixed with African singing and some UK dance tracks can result in a euphoric feeling! I have a young audience, and I have so often heard people remark that they have never felt so liberated, or as free as hearing me play. That is the best compliment one can give, more than when they talk about a certain record or music style. I like to operate on a philosophical/psychological level. Another time, some young women told me that they would’ve liked to have a mother like me!
What’s the story behind you using a part of the famous Laurel-and-Hardy catchphrase as a name?
Having done radio shows since the mid-80s, I’d chosen as part of the shows’ signature tune the quote “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” I still use it to this day.
As I play lots of styles, it might come across as a “mess” for some people, but it’s done well, so “nice” and ”another” refers to the next radio show, and now also to my next gig. There is some self-irony in this name choice. I am very interested in everything to do with words and sentences; I read a lot of novels when travelling. The last song in my regular set is always Scout Niblett’s minimalistic version of “Uptown Top Ranking”. “I got no style, I’m strictly roots,” she sings. I can relate to that; I am free and real.
Do you ever think about the future of the music industry; what it would look like, where you’d like to see your role in it?
Digitalization has made music available to everyone, which in a way is good, but on the flip side, everyone now thinks they too can be a DJ. But some of them stand there like they are filling in tax forms or say things like “it’s far easier carrying an MP3 stick than a heavy bag of records.” This attitude is not for me. Music is never about going for the easiest option; the aesthetic side doesn’t just apply to the music, but also everything that comes along with it.
As for me, I will always stay true to myself, so that means being independent, free-thinking, and never bowing down to expectations.
I noticed that you enjoy swimming. What would be your ideal place for a dip? Could you share with us some memorable experiences in the waters?
It’s not so much that I like active swimming (I am not very good at it), but I love being in the water! I like to think I am half woman/half fish! A mermaid? Wherever I go, I always carry my bikini with me.
When I played a festival in Uganda last September, I thought going into the Nile and/or Lake Victoria would be much fun, but people warned me against it. At this specific spot there were no crocodiles but the water is full of germs that can make you very ill. I’ll be playing in Dubai come February and it’ll be some 30 degrees there then, so I’m looking forward to the Persian Gulf!
So far I have had great water experiences in New York, Athens and Barcelona, amongst others. In Helsinki they have a heated outdoor pool placed in the sea and that was very exciting too – swimming in hot water with snow around the pool! On the other hand, I was “shocked” by the lack of open (swimming) waters in Milan and Madrid.
I don’t take drugs so I have all the time and energy to go sightseeing and “sight-swimming” wherever I play.
Any last words?
Let me think… Here are my last words: washing machine, post office, hamster, Nostradamus, fluid, sentimental, garden and my last “last word” is: peculiar!